Air quality plan ‘weaker than hoped’

5 May 2017

The government’s plan to improve air quality in UK cities has been criticised for “passing the buck” onto local authorities.

ClientEarth, a campaigning law firm, said the proposals were weaker than hoped and the UK would face illegal air quality for “years to come” under the plan. 

James Thornton, ClientEarth CEO, said: “We are continuing to study the government’s latest air quality plan, but on the face of it, it looks much weaker than we had hoped for.

“The government seems to be passing the buck to local authorities rather than taking responsibility for this public health emergency,” he said.

The government had also failed to commit to a diesel scrappage scheme, “a crucial element… needed to persuade motorists to move to cleaner vehicles”, he said.

ClientEarth recently won a case in the High Court forcing the government to publish the plan after the government had argued to do so would break pre-election rules on government announcements. The case was brought because most areas of the UK breach EU regulations for nitrogen dioxide levels, caused chiefly by diesel engines.

The government plan includes helping local authorities create localised clean air zones. The proposals include regulatory changes to encourage low emission taxis and vans, changes to road layouts to ease congestion and plans to make public sector fleets cleaner. The report proposes local authorities encourage freight firms to collaborate and innovate to reduce inner city journeys.

Andrea Leadsom, secretary of state for the environment, said the framework did presented options for a targeted scrappage scheme, but no further details were provided. “Improving air quality is a key priority as we support businesses in building a stronger and cleaner economy. Our plan today sets out how we will do just that,” she said.

The package would not “hit you in the pocket with higher taxes,” she added.

The framework is open for consultation until 15 June.

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